Denver Bar Association
January 2008
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Barely Legal: Your Annual Self Review

by Becky Bye

New Year’s resolutions. We all make them, and every magazine, newspaper and any other media source incorporates them into their January repertoire of articles.

I initially thought of doing a forward-looking "Barely Legal" article focused on prospective resolutions for young or new lawyers. I realized, however, that as lawyers, we need to reflect on our past year — professionally and personally — before beginning to think about next year’s resolutions.

For many associates or employees, this time of year often encompasses annual "reviews." These reviews can be frightening, at least until you find out you’re not fired. The days leading up to a review can be excruciating. Before a review, young lawyers may feel paranoid and anxious, presuming that the meeting will incorporate such phrases such as "bad," "horrible," "stinky" and "you’re fired." This is certainly the worst case scenario for any associate or employee.

In my experience, annual attorney reviews may contain some elements of the following:

Behavior at Holiday Parties & Other Social Events

Regardless of your position, social events such as Christmas parties or professional receptions may be required or expected. Many evaluations may consider and incorporate one’s social aptitude. If you were that "drunk guy" at last month’s fancy holiday party, groping partners’ spouses in an attempt to pull yourself off the ground, breaking expensive glass décor or spilling red wine on white cocktail dresses and suits, I can guarantee that this might be discussed in your annual review.

Interactions with other attorneys, members of your office and their significant others can make or break a review, even though this does not speak to your substantive lawyering. As we all know, being a lawyer includes social skills, which may be just as important in the day-to-day practice of law as legal skills.

Writing

Remember the April Fool’s edition of The Docket? In particular, did you happen to take the article that discussed how pleadings must be filed both in Spanish and English with Colorado courts seriously? Other writing concerns can include failing to use a spell check or being prone to typos that change the meaning of your writing.

Oral Communication Skills

Strangely enough, employers, clients and judges would rather interact with an attorney who speaks well, than with someone who uses "dude," "awesome" and "cool" in every sentence. If your vocabulary, grammar or enunciation leaves little to be desired, this might be an issue for you in an evaluation.

Rather than mention the panoply of other points that may be discussed during year-end reviews, such as working well with clients, reliability and taking initiative, I think it also is important to give ourselves a year-end personal review, which employers typically fail to do. As part of our overall year-end review, I propose the additional following issues to evaluate:

Adequacy of Significant Other

Is your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse up to par with your expectations? Are they as agreeable, affectionate, or interesting as you hoped? If not, I would strongly suggest you go out with the old and in with the new.

Exercise

Is your doctor telling you to exercise more, but you believe walking from your parking space in the underground parking garage to the elevator will get you into marathon shape? If so, you might want to reexamine your "extremely active" lifestyle.

Nutrition

If your diet solely consists of donuts, bagels, beer, wine and any free leftover food you are invited to have at your office, you might considering pondering this aspect of your review.

Work/Life Balance

On a more serious note, the balance between your profession and personal life is crucial. Even though we are technically lawyers at every moment of the day, there comes a time to turn your attention away from your work and toward your hobbies, interests, and most importantly, your loved ones.

When you finally have the time for introspection from your personal and professional strengths and weaknesses in 2007, I suggest you take all factors into account before determining your goals for 2008. Would you continue to hold your job or would you be fired from your personal and professional life? You decide.


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